May 5, 2011

Guest Post: Mark Jeffrey Author of Max Quick

Today I am excited to host Mark Jeffrey, author of a new series about a boy named Max Quick. The first book The Pocket and the Pendant was recently published and I will be reviewing it soon. Mark has written an excellent post for me on being a middle grade reader and how it led him into being a writer:

I guess I was weird middle-schooler.

Back then, my favorite book series was called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. It was all about a guy from our world who gets knocked out and wakes up in this sort of Middle Earth-type place. There's an evil dark lord. There's magic rings and races and swords and sorcery. Only thing is, Covenant doesn't believe it's real. He's got leprosy in the real world; he figures this is a wish fulfillment dream and if he buys into it he'll go mad. So he refuses to be the Frodo. His white gold wedding ring is basically the ultimate weapon here; but Covenant goes all Holden Caulfield and opts out at every turn. It's Lord of the Rings with an antihero.

It was not a kid's book, mind you. Or even young adult. It was very adult. And it bordered on actual literature. In fact, I think you could call it that with a straight face and even study it in college or something.

So why this series? Well, there was no Harry Potter. In fact, there really was no YA at the time (we're talking 1980 or so). There were kid's books -- Tom Swift, Narnia, Madeleine L'Engle, etc. -- and there were grown up books. That middle ground or crossover space did not really exist, except for fantasy books. And fantasy books were considered juvenile, not-serious, probably for kids. Lord of the Rings was regarded this way. What we now know to be a work of genius and the subject of a masterpiece film series was then relegated to a cheesy Rankin-Bass cartoon adaptation.

I really loved Lord of the Rings also, but it was too dense for my middle school mind. It was slow. Covenant, on the other hand, was fast-paced, not as dense. It was modern. This guy wore a T-shirt while everyone else wore robes or chainmail. He was wisecracking and sarcastic. He had a bad attitude: it was kind of funny, especially to the adolescent mind.

I was obsessed with this series. It was my Potter, my Twilight. And the author, Stephen R. Donaldson, absolutely adored fifty-cent words. Apotheosis. Obsequious. Chairoscuro. (What's hilarious is that Google's spellchecker doesn't even know that last one at all: I'm seeing the little red line beneath it, but I'm certain that it's spelled right). Point is: Donaldson expanded my vocabulary. He taught me how to paint with words. Even if I didn't know what they meant, they sounded important, exotic. They added to the tapestry even if I didn't know their definition.

The series started out as a three book trilogy, published in 1977. I voraciously consumed all three and figured that was that. Then, in 1980, I went to summer camp and someone told me that there was a fourth book out. I was like, what what? How could there be a fourth book? This was a mythical wonderful impossible thing that could not be: the story had concluded. It was like hearing a report of an eighth Harry Potter book.

When I got home and immediately checked at the bookstore (remember, no Internet back then, couldn't just check on Amazon, had to venture forth into the physical world), it turned out to be true: The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant Book One was now out. In this series, everything from the first book was turned upside down, was it's opposite. The first series admittedly was sort of a LOTR-alike but updated; this was something entirely and utterly new. Donaldson had gone way beyond, he had transcended the genre. In the first book, the Land (what the place is called) is beautiful beyond words and the dark lord threatens it; in this second series, it's thousands of years later and the dark lord has won. The world is a nightmare; nature is smashed and gone haywire. Covenant is the only one now who recalls the way things were and the people of the Land don't believe him; in fact they try to kill him. (I almost used the dreaded dystopia word but I refrained from such Hunger-laden phrase. Also, please note I did not use the word vampire.)

I was stunned. This book (called The Wounded Land if you're curious) was better than the entire first three put together.

By my next birthday, my sister had decided to play a trick on me. I walked into our living room, and sitting on the table in front of me was a book with a very familiar font and graphical treatment -- but with a title and words I had not seen before. With a start, I realized I was staring at Book Two of the Second Chronicles. A shot of joy ripped through me that nearly shorted out my nervous system.

And this book (The One Tree (yeah sure, a little One Ring-ish sounding, but who cares) was better than the first. Donaldson was way on top of his game. This was his golden period. The first trilogy was just a warm up, it was Donaldson stretching, going for a little jog, poring over a thesaurus looking for more cool words to impress the girls with (which we all know he did. come on dude: fess up.)

I would go so far as to say this trilogy so far was literary genius. There. I said it. I still feel that way. When I look at my own paltry literary scratchings versus Donaldson's, I feel like not-even-Salieri looking at Mozart. But -- I suppose everyone feels that way about someone else. Even Mozart.

And now came the third book. The end of the Second Chronicles. It was entitled 'White Gold Wielder', and we all know who has a white gold wedding ring, the A-bomb of the Land. That's right, our boy Covenant. This was book three, Wherein The Big White Gold Can of Whoop-Ass Is Unleashed. Title fight!

That's when Donaldson pulled the most unexpected, magnificent, transcendent ending to anything ever out and blew my little middle school brain clean out the back of my skull. It was not what anyone expected and yet was more perfect than anyone thought possible.

The trilogy was complete. It was perfect. Donaldson didn't Ewok me in the third act, nor did he pull a LOST. White Gold Wielder was exactly the crescendo it needed to be.

The curtain closed. And amazingness was had, and I rererererereread those books into dust.

And then. (Oh yes, there is more). And then. I grow up. I reach middle age. (That's sort of different from middle school. Note to all in middle school: recommend you stay there as long as they let you :) ) And yet another miracle occurs.

Donaldson announces the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. This is a four-book (four!) series.

I. I. I don't even know what to say. A series I started in middle school as a young reader -- in fact THE series that inspired me most to become an author -- has returned for even more awesome piled on top of awesome.

The first three books have been released. Yes, they're amazing. They're not what I expected, which I now expect. I read these three on my Kindle and then on my Kindle app on my iPad. I don't have physical copies, since I now live here in the future. I use magical reading tablet computer things, which is a far cry from the paperback middle school place where I began. When finished, I post my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I go to kevinswatch.com and read what other Donaldson fans have to say. We debate and argue.

Donaldson is writing the tenth -- and last -- book in the series now. It should be out in two years. When I am forty-five, the greatest literary adventure of my life will at last draw to a close. It is to be called The Last Dark. Kind of a bummer title, Donaldson, have to say.

But Donaldson is never what you expect. So I actually don't know what to expect. And I love it that way.

Oh, and I do hope you'll check out MAX QUICK: THE POCKET AND THE PENDANT! "When time stops all over the world, creating ‘the Pocket’ of time wherein basic physics are strangely altered, only Max Quick and a few other kids seem to unaffected. While the rest of the world remains frozen around them, Max—and Casey, Ian and Sasha—find that it is up to them to discover how this has happened and reverse it. Along the way, they encounter ‘magic’ books, ancient artifacts and other clues to the riddle of stopped time. And Max finds that his own true identity may not be what he once believed. Now he must embrace his past to save the future and prevent the very world from being altered forever…" More info at http://maxquickseries.com

4 comments:

  1. Yay! I'm hosting Mark on Friday and can't wait to read his book. Great guest article, Mark! I love it when people aren't afraid to gush about favorite authors and their books. :-)

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  2. Thanks for the opportunity to guest post here! I'm lurking and happy to answer any questions!

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  3. Wow. It is always great to read about what inspired an author and Mark not only inspires me to check out his book but Donaldson's as well. Great guest post.

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  4. I know! I totally want to read Donaldson's books as well.

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